Wuhan virus shakes entire tourism industry of Asia

- A Monitor Report1 Feb, 2020 | 555 Views|-+
Tokyo : A deadly virus prompting travel restrictions in China is sending shockwaves through Asia's tourism industry, becoming increasingly reliant on growing numbers of Chinese visitors.

At least 81 people have died since the new strain of coronavirus emerged in China's Wuhan, and millions are now under an effective quarantine, with all flights in and out of the city grounded and a ban on Chinese tour groups domestically and abroad.

The measures come amid a boom in Chinese foreign travel, with the number of tourists from the country increasing nearly tenfold since 2003, according to reports.

But businesses in destinations that rely on the huge numbers of Chinese tourists are already feeling the heat, with complaints of "deserted" beaches and shops, and concerns about the future.

The outbreak carries echoes of the SARS crisis, which paralysed regional travel and battered local economies from late 2002. Chinese tourist numbers then fell by around a third.

The number of Chinese holidaying in Japan has exploded from around 450,000 in 2003 to 8.4 million in 2018, accounting for 27 per cent of all inbound tourists as Tokyo works to expand the sector. But it will now be "very difficult" for Japan to achieve its target of 40 million tourists in 2020.

And the effects will be felt beyond hotels, restaurants and tourist sites, because many Chinese tourists visit Japan specifically to shop.

But Japan would be better placed to weather the storm than another top destination for Chinese tourists - Thailand.

Tourism accounts for 18 per cent of the nation's GDP, with Chinese holidaymakers making up more than a quarter of total arrivals.

The country's tourism minister has already warned a crisis on the scale of SARS could cost an estimated USD 1.6 billion, and the effects are already clear in Phuket.

Australia too, already reeling from the effects of the bushfire crisis, is likely to feel the impact.

Chinese visitor numbers doubled in the six years to June 2019, with mainlanders now accounting for 15 per cent of Australia's inbound tourists.

Mario Hardy, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association said it was hard to gauge how long the crisis would last.

"I would suspect the impact would be between three to six months, but it will really depend on how the situation evolves in the coming few weeks," he said.

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